At just 4 weeks pregnant, the midwife asked me if I'd considered a homebirth! She explained that Cardiff was trying to increase the number of homebirths in the area and that I could call her with any questions if I was interested. She said that there were a few criteria I'd need to satisfy - a healthy pregnancy, a good iron count at 38 weeks and live within a safe distance of a hospital should any complications arise.
At first I thought that, being a first-time mum, it might be better to go into hospital as I didn't know what to expect but the more I thought about it and researched it the more I realised that it was going to be a strange (and painful) process wherever I was located so why not at least try to be in familiar surroundings and have some continuity of care - I really didn't fancy the idea of just getting to know one midwife only to have her end her shift and another one take over. So, my mind was made up and all I had to do now was wait - and wait and wait, as things finally got moving 9 days after my due date.
I'd met all the midwives in my 'area team' and they'd all visited my home in advance of the big day. However, on the day that I finally went into labour, there was an unexpected turn of events - the midwife who should have attended me was ill and so I was referred to the alternative team, who took over in such circumstances. I needn't have worried though as Helen, the 'substitute', was absolutely brilliant.
It was about 5am when I woke up feeling that something wasn't quite right. I decided that since I was 9 days overdue, I ought to ring the maternity unit at the hospital (I was given their number as an out of hours service) and they suggested that I check in with them over the next couple of hours so we could see if anything was happening.
Something definitely was happening although it was more discomfort than anything at this stage so I called them back at about 7am. We decided that the baby was definitely on his way so they contacted Helen and she rang me to introduce herself and see how I was feeling. She called in to check on me a little later in the morning, where she found me perched on a gym ball wearing my tens machine but still able to smile - she told me to call her immediately I felt things were progressing past the smiling stage!
I was in this latent stage of labour for quite while a while then Steve, my husband, who was on stopwatch duty, told me that I was firmly in a pattern of contractions coming around every 2½ -3 minutes, so bearing that in mind, we thought we'd better get Helen. She arrived at about 15.45 and did a quick examination which revealed that I was 5cms dilated. I'd opted to try Entonox, so Steve went out to Helen's car to bring in the cylinder ready for when I needed it - so far I'd been OK just using the tens, though I wasn't sure if it was actually doing me any good or whether it was just providing a welcome distraction by giving some dials to twiddle! At this point, I was still in the living room and was offered some moral support from one of our cats, who hopped up onto my back (I was kneeling, leaning forwards) and purred gently into my ear!
As things started to progress, we moved upstairs as I'd prepared our spare room with all manner of 'props' - chair, cushions, pillows etc - as I had no idea what I was going to want other than knowing that I wanted to have as active a labour as possible. I certainly had the right midwife for this - she was fantastic and really made sure I was moving about and 'taking part' rather than just being 'dealt with'. By now, I'd starting using the Entonox, which thankfully didn't make me feel at all sick, but really dried out my mouth. I found that an endless supply of water via my sports bottle did the trick, and was so much more practical than trying to take sips from a glass.
I'd lost all track of time but then Helen asked me if I had an urge to bear down - yes definitely! All the while, Helen was checking me every 15 minutes using a hand-held monitor. I kept asking if the baby was alright and she told me that his heartbeat was steady and strong all the way through, with no signs of distress. It was fascinating to 'watch' him travelling on his journey as Helen's monitor got lower and lower on my stomach.
Helen suggested that I try walking about again, and to help me to know where to direct my pushing efforts, she sat me on the toilet! This really helped as I wasn't wasting energy pushing away in the wrong place - though I was a bit concerned that the baby would shoot out down the U-bend! She assured me that wasn't going to happen of course. She then said that if I could bear to put the Entonox to one side, I would be able to use the contractions more effectively and she also got me to stand up - one hand on her shoulder and one hand on Steve's for support - so that I could push better. What a great position - I was able to really use gravity to help me, plus without the Entonox, my head started to clear, which also made me feel better. At this point I started making some cavewoman-like grunts, which Helen said was her favourite noise as whenever she heard this, it meant that the mum-to-be was really getting stuck in!
Helen suggested taking a look to see how I was doing, so we took a walk back to the bedroom and I decided I felt like just flopping onto some cushions on the floor - Helen examined me and then said that I could either stand up again or just give a few pushes and I'd have the baby right where I was. I decided to just push and, sure enough, in just a few minutes or so, there was my beautiful baby boy, still attached by his cord, lying in my arms. I'd taken off my nightshirt so that we could be skin-to-skin and as soon as I held him, he looked up and stopped crying and began looking around. I couldn't believe that just 4 hours after Helen arriving at the house, here we all were at 19.44 hrs with a brand new little life.
Once the cord had finished pulsating, Steve cut it and then it was his turn to hold Gabriel whilst I got stitched up - I used the Entonox again for that bit! It seems that Gabriel had made his entrance into the world at a bit of an angle so, despite my best efforts, tearing had occurred. I'd been lucky with the third stage though - I'd asked for a physiological third stage and amazingly, it was all over and done with just five minutes after Gabriel was born. As I was still lying on the floor at this point, we thought it would be a good idea for me to move onto the bed, where Helen helped me to get started on breastfeeding Gabriel - he latched on properly straight away and began sucking for all he was worth. Things have carried on in that way ever since!
I have to mention how great at cleaning up the midwives were - another midwife had arrived as a back-up when I was busily pushing Gabriel out and she had brought a student with her (they asked if this was OK beforehand) - and between them, they did a wonderful job of getting rid of all the messy stuff so we could just enjoy our new little son.
Helen had to go to the hospital to complete all the 'new baby paperwork' but she came back to see us again, and helped me to have a bath and settle in for the night before finally goodbye but reassuring us that one of the midwives would call in to see us the next morning. By this time, Gabriel had finally finished his first 'meal' so we put him into his cot next to our bed - and then Steve and I spent most of the night just gazing at him wonderment and feeling too proud and excited to sleep - if only we'd realised that we'd get plenty of practice at sleepless nights!
So, as you can see, I had a fabulous, positive experience and will definitely be requesting a homebirth if we're lucky enough to have a little brother or sister for Gabriel in the future.
Update: Gabriel did indeed get a little sister... Phoebe's birth story is now online.
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